The below readings and videos are designed to give you a better sense of what universal design for learning, executive function and assistive technology are and how we can use them in the classroom to enhance and support students.


Universal Design for Learning is often referred to as UDL. A working definition of Universal Design for Learning was provided by the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 which stated:

“The term UNIVERSAL DESIGN FOR LEARNING means a scientifically valid framework for guiding educational practice that:

(A) provides flexibility in the ways information is presented, in the ways students respond or demonstrate knowledge and skills, and in the ways students are engaged; and

(B) reduces barriers in instruction, provides appropriate accommodations, supports, and challenges, and maintains high achievement expectations for all students, including students with disabilities and students who are limited English proficient.”

Assistive Technology can best be defined as:

“Assistive Technology (AT) is any item, piece of equipment, software program, or product system that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of persons with disabilities.

AT can be low-tech: communication boards made of cardboard or fuzzy felt.

AT can be high-tech: special-purpose computers.

AT can be hardware: prosthetics, mounting systems, and positioning devices.

AT can be computer hardware: special switches, keyboards, and pointing devices.

AT can be computer software: screen readers and communication programs.

AT can be inclusive or specialized learning materials and curriculum aids.

AT can be specialized curricular software.

AT can be much more—electronic devices, wheelchairs, walkers, braces, educational software, power lifts, pencil holders, eye-gaze and head trackers, and much more.

Assistive technology helps people who have difficulty speaking, typing, writing, remembering, pointing, seeing, hearing, learning, walking, and many other things. Different disabilities require different assistive technologies”


Executive Functioning is “The aspect of the self that initiates behaviors and makes selections” (Self Regulations and the Executive Function of the Self - Roy F Baumeister and Kathleen D Vohs) Harvard University Centre on the Developing Child explains that “Executive function and self-regulation skills are the mental processes that enable us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks successfully. Just as an air traffic control system at a busy airport safely manages the arrivals and departures of many aircraft on multiple runways, the brain needs this skill set to filter distractions, prioritize tasks, set and achieve goals, and control impulses.” (

Now that we have an understanding of what EF, UDL and AT are, how can they enhance and support student learning? Why are they necessary? As explains “Individuals bring a huge variety of skills, needs, and interests to learning. Neuroscience reveals that these differences are as varied and unique as our DNA or fingerprints. Three primary brain networks come into play:

It is important for us educators to have an understanding of our students in order to best meet their learning styles.

“UDL provides a blueprint for creating instructional goals, methods, materials, and assessments that work for everyone--not a single, one-size-fits-all solution but rather flexible approaches that can be customized and adjusted for individual needs.”


The video on the left created by CAST gives an overview explaining what UDL is and how it looks in the classroom.

The video on the right created by Harvard University Centre on the Developing Child does a great job explaining what Executive Function is:

Task: After gaining a better understanding of what Executive Functioning, Universal Design for Learning and Assistive Technologies are, think of one student in your class you could apply this knowledge to better support their learning. Write a brief profile of this student be sure to include, grade, what type of exceptionality and any other important information such as behavioral traits.

Include the student profile in your learning matrix

Supplementary readings: